Tour Of India - Palitana, Mount Abu
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Indian railways—An unexpected honour—Satranjaya—The Jains —Kathiawar — A pathetic wardship—Hospitality—Isolation and insularity—Abu—The Dilwarra temples—Caste—Fatalism—A case for the S.P.R.
December 31, 1911, MOUNT ABU.—Before coming here, I had a most interesting trip to Palitana. As the map shows, it is away down in a corner of Kathiawar, where travellers scarcely ever go in fact, the railway was only opened in November, and is not marked on the map. It is the capital of a Native State, and close to it is the holy mountain Satranjaya, a famous place of pilgrimage.
The guide-book said there was a dak bungalow there—i.e., a little rest-house provided by Government where there are no hotels so I telegraphed for breakfast to be ready there, and travelled by night from Ahmedabad.
Railway travelling is a vile business here. The trains are very slow (well under twenty miles an hour), dirty, and roundabout (e.g., to get from Udaipur to Abu last week, fifty-five miles as the crow flies, I had to travel three hundred and seventy-five miles by train, as the map will show you). . You invariably start, arrive, or change at about 3 a.m. But what is far worse is the native crowd. A native who wishes to travel always comes to the station twelve or fifteen hours before the train is due. Innumerable others who don't wish to travel come to gossip with the passengers and guard. Consequently every station is choc-a-bloc with a very dirty and malodorous horde of men and women, all chattering as loud as they can bawl, pausing only to spit every tenth or eleventh second (they chew betel-nut, which produces pints of crimson spittle, too disgusting for words), jostling each other and blocking the whole platform with their bundles of bedding, while at intervals the hawkers of glutinous foodstuffs utter intolerable droning calls from the midst of a seething, pestilential swarm of flies.
This is a true picture of every station ; and every train (except mails) stops at every station a quarter of an hour for purposes of gossip, and at all large stations half an hour or an hour ; e.g., on the way to Palitana the train stopped fifty-five minutes at Virangam (change), thirty minutes at Wadhwan, thirty-five at Dhola, twenty-five at Sihor (change), and fifteen or at least ten minutes at sixteen others. Consequently we took twelve and a half hours to cover a hundred and seventy miles.
However, I got to Palitana at last at 9 a.m. and was met on the platform—to my natural surprise—by the Prime Minister of the State! There was no dak bungalow, and so my telegram had been taken to the Administrator, the only white man in the place, and he, having a proper sense of what is due to sahib-log, had told the Prime Minister to meet me and see that I was cared for in the Maharajah's guest-house. So I was put into a Conga and told that I should find breakfast at the guest-house. The servant here, however, in spite of my telegram, was of opinion that I should prefer to climb the mountain on an empty stomach, and had only provided tea and biscuits. I could get nothing else but chapathi (an alias for dough rolled out flat) : as for bread, there was no such thing in the city. Fortunately, I had brought some provisions, and managed to make a sort of meal. But before starting for the mountain I impressed on the Prime Minister's A.D.C. that I hoped for something more substantial when I came down.
The tonga took me to the foot of the Satranjaya Mountain. It stands two thousand feet straight out of the flat plain, and there is a Pilgrims' Way up the side—a steep paved path varied by flights of steps : an average gradient of one in ten and about four miles in length. You could see it like a ribbon up the mountain side, thickly dotted with red and 'white figures, ascending and descending.
I was taken up in a dhoti, which is a square small mattress slung on two poles and carried by four men. It took an hour and a quarter to get up. The whole top of the mountain is occupied by a city of Jain temples. There are two ridges and a depression between, and the whole area is covered with these temples, scores of them. There are nineteen chief temples, each with courtyards and shrines round them ; and the rest of the ground is filled up by minor temples, ranging in date from A.D. 1100 to the present day, but all of the same regular Jain type. By the way, if you want to know what these temples are like and to understand how Jain architecture differs from Hindu, etc., you might get Fergusson's " History of Indian Architecture," which has pictures of all the temples I am likely to see or mention, and is well indexed. It is a very celebrated work out here : it was there that I first saw a picture and description of Palitana, which made me wish to visit it.
The Jams are not a very big sect : they are analogous to the Quakers in Christendom. Their founder was a contemporary of Buddha's, and, like Gautama, a reformer of Hinduism, whose followers afterwards broke away from Hinduism. What the difference is between Jainism and Buddhism I can't quite discover : all the Jain temples have statues of Buddha as the chief image. (No, not Buddha, I find, but one of the twenty-four Tirthankers or deified Jain saints. Buddha may be one of them.) The best-known characteristic of the Jains is their extreme doctrine of the sanctity of life. The Hindu does not kill wantonly, but except for cows, monkeys, and peacocks, and local sacred beasts, he will kill under provocation. The Buddhist is much stricter, and won't even kill snakes. But with the Jain it amounts to fanaticism. Not only won't he kill even a flea (their holy men carry brushes to sweep insects out of their path, lest they should tread on one), but he makes great efforts to keep things alive at all costs. They put up beautifully carved feeding-places for birds, and they build homes for diseased cattle, which are to our ideas horribly cruel, for they keep animals there with broken legs and festering sores. At Ahmedabad I met a string of about fifty Jain women carrying canvas bags from which water was trickling. On inquiry I found they were carrying all the fish from a pond ten miles away, which had dried up, to another pond where there was water.
Their whole character seems to be of a piece with this. Like their namesake, they are gentle and as good as gold. They are men of peace, devout and simple : and in Palitana at least they were most friendly, showed me everything, though none of them knew a word of English, and made no demands for backshish. The very dhoti coolies only asked for eight annas each for carrying me up the mountain and down again—I wouldn't walk it for eight rupees.
From the city there is an illimitable view of burnt brown plain with the sea in the dim distance to the south-east. All India that I have seen since Delhi (viz., Rajputana, Gujerat, and Kathiawar) is bare brown plain, with occasional ranges of bare brown hills. From July to October it is said to be bright green and then gradually dries up : but this year, owing to the monsoon's failure, it is already as brown as it is usually in March, and the trees are bare as well. One can just see where the grass once was, but the only noticeable vegetation on the plains is cactus and thorn, both sparse. This makes the jungle look much barer than the veldt with its grass : it is more like the Karoo and the Kalahari : but the soil is not such a red brown here. Wherever there is enough water to irrigate a few acres you see an emerald-green patch ; but they are few and far between : nine rivers out of every ten are absolutely dry. Even the Sabarmati at Ahmedabad, which in flood-time is four hundred yards wide, thirty feet deep, and a rushing torrent, is now about fifty yards wide and one foot deep.
I got back to Palitana about half-past three, had a bath, and found a solid five-course meal prepared, which I gladly consumed. After that I went to call on the Administrator. He, his wife, and her sister were the only white people in the State. He had been there six years, seventeen miles from a railway until last November. He runs the State autocratically, for the Rajah is only eleven. I saw him, poor little boy ! and felt very sorry for him. He has to live with the Administrator, since his life would not be worth a month's purchase in the zenana, among his mother's rivals. He can only visit his mother occasionally and in charge of a trustworthy guardian, and of course mustn't touch any food there. He was one of the Queen's pages at Delhi, and when I saw him he was dressed up in his Durbar clothes and jewels, as he was going to visit his mother and show them to her.
The Administrator's wife had made a most lovely garden, full of flowers and fruit, which showed what a splendid soil that bare brown earth would be if it could get water. Her vines were incredibly big for two years old.
He is just going to be shifted, at which he groused a bit: he said he had got to know and be trusted by the people and could be really useful in Palitana : in his new place it would mean starting all over again, new language and everything. I heard just the same complaint in Ahmedabad. A young man very rarely gets even three years in one district, and is being perpetually shifted to places where language and customs are entirely different. It is all done by the central Government at Bombay, and they move people about, quite irrespective of their qualifications.
January 4, MOUNT ABU, RAJPUTANA. The chaplain here has been most kind and put me up for a week. It is wonderful how hospitable people are here : if you have a mutual acquaintance at all, they are quite offended if you go to a hotel. I think it is all part of the " two thousand to one " feeling which pervades the whole atmosphere—the feeling that each Englishman is holding two thousand natives; so that white colour is a passport to hospitality. Also people are lonely and like company. Oddly enough they don't welcome one as being lately from home. No one out here takes the smallest interest in English affairs.
Nor do people take any interest in Indian politics either. That is, I suppose, the result of autocracy. They follow Bombay politics to a certain extent, though far less than in England. But a question like the partition of Bengal excites not the faintest interest on the " Bombay side " : no one knows anything about it. As you say, it is a question for the experts, so I shall have to wait till I get to Bengal before I hear anything worth recording about it. I told you what I heard at Delhi : but I have met no Bengal people yet. No Bombay man ever goes to Bengal. Leave is invariably stored up till one can go to England : and consequently I have met lots of men with twenty or thirty years' experience of Bombay Presidency and all its peoples, who are literally more ignorant of, say, the United Provinces than I am. This curious condition seems typical of the dividedness of India. At Delhi unity was the note. Away from it I am more and more impressed by the fact that, apart from the Raj, India is, or would be, merely a geographical expression.
I do think it is a great pity I. C. S . men don't travel more, but one can't blame them. I do blame some of their wives, however. Occasionally they aggravate me beyond words—and some of the soldiers are nearly as bad. To talk to them one might think the population of India was one hundred and fifty thousand and white. " Agra ?—No : I've never been there : not a bad place, I believe ; Northumberland Fusiliers isn't it ? . . . Jaipur ? Where's that ?—Oh ! Mere ! That's a native place, isn't it ? You must go to Peshawar . . . the best dances going : I simply long to go there," etc. As for history, I believe if you asked them when Indian history began, they'd say " With Clive, I suppose ! "
To return to the Partition for a moment, the thing I should like to know was whether Lord Curzon did it purely for administrative efficiency or from political motives as well. Lovat Fraser emphatically says the first, and at present I gather that is true. If so, it seems to me that the new arrangement is demonstrably more efficient, though of course more expensive.
This place is extremely pretty, four thousand feet up in the Aravalli Hills. The scenery reminds one of the Alpes Maritimes behind Beaulieu, only the colouring is browner. They have had some rain here (though not much), and so there is more vegetation than below ; the mountainsides are covered with shrubs—the only ones in flower now are the jessamine bushes. There is a little lake at the end of the town, and from the tops of the hills one can look right over the plain, five thousand feet below.
The place is the hot-weather resort of the Rajputana Government. . . . It is famous for the two Dilwarra temples, about a mile from here, dated A.D. 1000 and 1100. They are small, but inside are most exquisitely carved—the most elaborate and delicate marble carving in India. It is quite impossible to describe, and so far I have failed to get any photographs of it, but I hope to.
I have had two days shooting—total bag one spur-fowl.
January 5, 1912, MOUNT ABu.—On Monday I went to see the Dilwarra temples. Like all really first-class things, they exceed their description : their carving easily surpasses any I have ever seen anywhere. The ceilings are the chief marvel : their construction is astonishingly complex, but the effect is not a bit laboured. I believe it took seven years to repair three square yards of it, where the pigeons had knocked off the pendants.
As in all Jain temples, I had to leave outside my umbrella, my dog, and my low-caste servant. What can be said of a religion which gives one-fifth of the population the same rights of worship as an umbrella ! The sweeper-caste's position really does seem to me intolerable—all the dirty work, no rights, and no hope : since it is a fundamental principle that as a man is born so he must die. A very little education must surely drive him to revolt.
The Jain temples are full of scores of images of one of the twenty-four deified Tirthankers or saints. The ritual and chanting looks and sounds, at a short distance, very like a Roman Mass. Whether Jainism is necessarily idolatrous I don't know : I expect the ordinary pilgrims do worship the actual image. Popular Hinduism seems to be a most extreme and childish form of idolatry—so absurd that it can't survive among educated men. At present the educated classes, being high-caste and there-fore " bosses," cling to a Hinduism voided of all its definite content or else become pure materialists.
The famine years rather brought out the view which the Brahmans take of the low-caste people, to judge by the quaint stories I've heard. Apparently the Maharana of Udaipur was highly indignant when asked to organize relief works for the Bhils in his State, who were starving in thousands. The Bhils are great thieves and poachers, rather gipsyish and unruly, and the Maharana had been chortling at their extermination. " I have been thanking God," he pathetic-ally remarked, " that He has been pleased to rid me of these troublesome Bhils. Why do you wish me to undo the work of God when He is kind ? "
And the poor people themselves regard this as quite a normal attitude. When a free-food bureau was opened by the English residents at Neemuch in 1900, the natives wouldn't touch the food, even though they were starving, because they believed' the sahibs wanted to poison them and so have less trouble in collecting their corpses than if they starved all about the district.
Another typical refusal occurred later on in that year when cholera followed the famine. The English had the wells analysed and warned the people which were infected, but they paid no attention, saying, " We shall not get cholera unless it be God's will, and if it be God's will we have no right to try and thwart it." Which seems to show that the doctrine of free-will is the foundation of civilization.
I must just tell you one more story I heard about another queer rub-up of East and West. This time it was between a jogi and an English police-inspector in Kathiawar. The jogi, i.e., holy man, claimed Divine inspiration, and attracted such a multitude of followers that the police took notice of it. So the inspector sent for the jogi and questioned him. The jogi said he could read men's inner thoughts. " Read mine then," said the inspector. The jogi asked for a night's preparation "to speak with the stars." In the morning he brought three sealed envelopes and laid them at the inspector's feet. " Let the sahib think of a flower," he said. So the inspector thought of " Mignonette " and said, " I have thought."
" Let the sahib open the first writing."
He opened it and found a scrap of paper on which was written " MIGNONETTE " in scrawly capitals. He was much surprised, as there was no possibility of a trick. Then the jogi said again, " Let the sahib think of a jewel," and again the one he thought of was written on the paper inside the envelope. So when the jogi said for the third time, " Let the sahib think of a city," he determined to think of one the jogi had never heard of, and selected Johannesburg. As soon as he had thought of it he picked up the third envelope, and on opening it found a paper with "JOHANISIBURG written on it I heard this from the inspector himself, and he said that an English scientist had had a go at the jogi afterwards and had been scored off every time. Apparently the jogi could force thoughts as a conjuror forces cards.